Holiday parties abound in December as companies acknowledge the contributions their employees have made during the year.  However, these good tidings come with the potential to create huge areas of liability for your company.

In most cases, alcohol is the “Grinch” that results in a supervisor making harassing comments to an employee, a co-worker grabbing another co-worker under the mistletoe or the person crashing their car into a tree on the way home.

To make this the “most wonderful time of the year” for you and your employees, here are some tips to help you minimize claims of harassment, workers’ comp and negligence.

If possible, don’t serve alcohol. Sometimes that’s easier said than done when there is a perception that no one will attend if alcohol isn’t served.  But perhaps it’s time to change traditions and cater a lunch for folks at work rather than hold an event off-site where there is an expectation that alcohol will be served.

If alcohol is served, hold the event off property, outside of regular work hours and make it completely voluntary. Make sure your supervisors understand that they should not force (implicitly or explicitly) their employees to attend the party.

Educate workers about the dangers of drinking and driving. Make it clear that the company won’t tolerate excessive drinking.

Make sure no alcohol is served to anyone under 21. Consider requiring those under age 21 to wear some type of bracelet, pin or hand-stamp that makes it easy for a server to spot those not permitted to drink alcohol.

Always serve food if you are making alcohol available.

Limit the amount of time the bar is open.

Minimize the amount of alcohol served by limiting it to beer and wine that is provided during the meal.

Don’t have an “open bar” where the liquor flows freely. Instead, have a cash bar or use a ticket system to limit the number of drinks.

Make sure professional bartenders are serving the drinks and make sure they stop service to those who appear to be intoxicated.

Tell your supervisors and managers that they are “on duty” during the party and that they should keep any eye on employees to make sure they don’t drink too much. Also instruct them that they are not permitted to attend “after party” parties.

Remind employees that your normal workplace standards of conduct will apply and that misconduct at or after the party will result in disciplinary action.

Take away the keys of intoxicated employees. Arrange for a taxi service (at no cost to the employee) to transport employees who feel that they should not drive. Also consider providing hotel rooms for intoxicated employees.

Check the company’s general liability insurance policy and review any potential additional coverage needed with your broker.

Best wishes for a safe, happy holiday season and a prosperous new year!

December Programs  offered by EAF.  As a reminder, we provide preferred rates to Hispanic Chamber of Commerce members.

Contributed by Christine Crews, SPHR, is Vice President of Human Resource Services for the Employers Association Forum, Inc. (EAF). EAF is a non-profit corporate membership-based association dedicated to serving the business and HR communities with world-class HR tools, hotlines & legal compliance, news & trends, surveys & economic data, benefits & insurance, risk management, training & consulting, and leadership & organizational development. www.eafinc.org or [email protected]

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